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Saturday 26 February 2022

Forget spears and swords

What makes Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine different is it’s a “modern” war. All the available up-to-date death-dealing technology aimed at the twenty-first century city of Kyiv. Multi-storey blocks of apartments which suddenly become very vulnerable to weapons delivered by supersonic jets screaming across an unchallenged sky. Refugees, well-dressed for winter, packing suitcases, getting into cars and forming traffic jams.

Contrast and compare with the scenes of yesteryear occurring in, say, Kabul in Afghanistan.

Modern in the sense that we, the spectators, become uneasily aware of an elephant in the room. Just suppose the Ukrainian forces managed to force some kind of military stalemate, however unlikely. You’ve heard translations of Putin’s hardline broadcasts; language born out of a 30-year-old grudge, with the fall of the Berlin Wall seen as a world catastrophe. The loss of an empire. Would this guy hesitate to use even more deadly weapons?

And there have been hints. One of Putin’s early aims was to take over the still radioactive prize of Chernobyl in northern Ukraine, scene of the world’s greatest nuclear accident. Why? I have absolutely no idea. Only that it seems symbolic and, in my book, symbols proclaim the zealot.

Those of us with a true sense of history will find no comfort. US and UK citizens talk easily about the way we “won” WW2. It’s true we were on the winning side but we were not alone. Think of that relentless horde coming in from the East and sweeping across half of Germany. Yes, those guys. Twenty-million dead yet still they came.

Ukrainian soldiers are being asked to sacrifice themselves. Why not surrender and, later, form guerrilla armies. Recalling why those same Russians, after years of trying, left Afghanistan to the Taliban.

Tuesday 22 February 2022

A gentler wake-up

Julie arrives as well-armed as Putin, crossing
the Ukraine's eastern border. Just joking, folks

Today’s Tuesday, the getting-up-early day. Julie’s day. Soon she’ll be bustling in with her Henry vacuum cleaner, her cleaning materials, and tales of “horrendous” traffic on the A465. For two hours the house will accommodate Hurricane Julie - a natural force for good - purging our dust and grime, putting bed linen into the wash, opening all the windows (“This house is far too hot.”), and, with our blessing, making herself a coffee.

In the non-pandemic days we used to exit when she arrived, making sure we didn’t get under the feet. Killing time with coffee and chat in Tesco’s café. We’ll be resuming that routine today, now the café is open again. Then, back to the newly cleaned house; off with my shoes so that I may walk over the still wetly shining kitchen floor, always Julie’s last task before she bustles away to clean elsewhere.

As I say, getting-up-early day. A pain during deep winter when all is dark and I must shave purely by touch in the en suite to allow VR a few extra minutes of bedtime. But now, thank God, dawn arrives earlier and I need no longer consult my illuminable wrist watch to check the time.

Our bedroom walls carry several hanging pictures – a Tate-Gallery print of a Turner masterpiece, and some prints I picked up in the USA and which evoke the architectural remnants of the Great Depression era.  These decorations act as a substitute for the wrist watch.

Gradually, as dawn advances, light seeps into the bedroom. In the gloom I first detect the pictures as darkish blobs, then as recognisable rectangles, then – magic moment – the details begin to appear. All become recognisable. More civilised than the watch’s garish digits. Time to get up.

The bedside pictures that transform themselves at
dawn. Photo taken at 17.00 hr, hence the reflection

Friday 18 February 2022

Beset by predictions

On the lh side behind the vertical tree branches is the Hereford
Rowing Club. Not a good day for the rowing fraternity

Bought as a birthday prezzie for VR, the 
prunus admirably indicates wind speed

Sixty years ago health treatment differed widely from that of today. Then helpful information was often denied patients or handed out grudgingly, expressed in obscure euphemism. The justification seemed to be: don’t-worry-your-pretty-little-head.

Now questions are encouraged and patients prepared mentally as well as physically for procedures - particularly noticeable when surgery and subsequent chemotherapy are contrasted. The former is more or less self-explanatory; with the latter, toxic substances are introduced leading to a wide range of reactions, not all of them pleasant.

I’ve already had one pre-chemo consultation where I was broadly informed, weighed and required to supply a blood sample. There’ll be another in a fortnight, the difference being I’ll be asked to sign a waiver. Proof the reactions are hard to foresee. 

For that first consultation I decided to walk to the hospital: Two and half miles, some of it along the banks of the Wye, generally conceded to be one of Britain’s prettiest rivers. Already grievous forecasts about Storm Eunice were being made (they got far worse later that day) and the Wye was over-filled and fast-flowing. If I toppled in I might well fetch up at Chepstow – consult your atlas.

I felt beset by predictions: my health and the weather. Methods have improved in both these fields, but it’s as well to reflect that these more precise percentages still relate to bad outcomes as well as good. If all predictions were 100% good they’d no longer be predictions. I’ve been fascinated by probability, one of the tougher branches of mathematics, but what I’ve learned hasn’t eliminated my distaste for gambling.

Of course, I’m not the person throwing the dice. I am, you might say, the dice itself. Returning from the hospital I boarded a bus that took me 66.6% of the way.

Saturday 12 February 2022

12-year-old nightshirt resurrected

I seem to have adopted
the pose corpses do
when placed in coffins

Got my hair cut yesterday. When was the last time? Dunno. Well before Christmas.

Severed waves of silvery hair floated down, about 2 in. long. I asked Shara (my shearer these last several years) how quickly hair grows. “About half an inch a month,” she said. Could it have been four months since my last visit? I worried Shara was never going to get rich from me and tipped her 50%. Sounds a lot but she doesn’t charge much. Back home, VR, seeing my forehead, the first time for yonks, said it looked well.

Post belly-surgery, how do you keep your trousers up? The lightest belt pressure causes discomfort. Use braces (US: galluses) except you can’t attach them to your PJ trousers. Finally, I’ve found a use for my ankle-length nightshirt which I bought online in the USA:

Blog extract October 26, 2010 (when Tone Deaf was called Works Well):

Oh joy! All the way from Hobe Sound, Florida (An address, I suspect, more glamorous than the place itself.) comes my XXXL Super Soft Henley nightshirt, coloured Forest Green and made in India. Discovered by The Crow who from now on can fulfil all my clothing needs.

As the arms suggest a US XXXL is a mite bigger than a British XXXL and covers the body weight range 251 – 310 lb (18 – 22.14 stones). And before anyone concludes Yorkshire people go to bed in their socks this was purely a photographic session, thanks to Occasional Speeder. 

I tried the nightshirt over a decade ago and was disappointed to find it “ruckled” up in bed. It’s gathered dust ever since. I took it to the hospital for the session that was postponed; left it at home the second time. Now I find I can live with the ruckling. 

Saturday 5 February 2022

I got wheels again

Snuffling in the feed-box, kicking the stable walls,
eager to be saddled, LBJ recently went to the dump

Both the medical folk and my insurance company have signalled the green light: I may now resume car driving. I was able to drive to the dump – with VR in the passenger seat, desperate for an experience denied her for weeks and weeks – and get rid of all those bags of garden waste. Whooo-pee!

It was an affectionate reunion. Skoda  LBJ (the last three symbols of the registration and a reminder of a president who might have done well for the USA had he not become ensnared in Vietnam) is the best car I have ever owned. And that makes sense. The current car should always be the best, otherwise there’s no proof that the owner is heeding the lessons handed out by history.

It’s an Old Man’s Car. At a certain age drivers should discard stick-shift; working the clutch and the gear-lever become unnecessary distractions. Better I devote my full attention to the road and the others I share it with. Especially since the seven-speed auto with its two pre-selector clutches actually changes gear faster than anyone other than a racing driver could.

The Skoda is, by UK standards, medium size. The boot (US: trunk) is huge and I’m not tempted by smaller cars even if they are notionally easier to park. Better I’m never short of carrying space, as with the bags of garden waste. Besides which, bigger capacity cars are, on the whole, more relaxing. Less revving, less engine noise, they sort of loaf along. In fact the engine is comparatively small (a mere 1.4 litres) but you wouldn’t know it. Performance is readily available.

Best of all the Skoda doesn’t encourage sentimentality. It’s practical and well-thought-out. No need to forgive its compromises, there aren’t any. A car for going somewhere, not dreaming about.